Amnesty International highlights continuation of rights’ violations

Torture and ill-treatment by state agents, often of members of ethnic minorities or foreigners, continued to be rife in Europe last year, while in Greece there were numerous allegations of ill-treatment of detainees by police, Amnesty International (AI) announced this week. In its annual human rights report, the rights group notes that Greece is one of several European countries where police ill-treated Roma and in some cases failed to protect them from abuse. «A Rom and an Albanian citizen were shot dead by police officers in unrelated incidents,» AI says in its report, adding that «serious concerns continued about failures to bring to justice police responsible for ill-treatment and other human rights violations.» The rights group also denounced the prolonged detention of illegal immigrants by Greek authorities, and cited reports of their being denied the right to apply for asylum. «In the first half of the year, undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers under deportation orders continued to be detained for months without judicial review,» AI underlined. Last June, a law was introduced setting the maximum period of detention at three months, but the group alleged that «some detainees were held beyond that time.» Furthermore, the group said that «as increasing numbers of undocumented foreign nationals arrived in the country, there were reports that some were being denied the right to apply for asylum, and concerns persist about their conditions of detention.» Greece is a both a transit and destination country for thousands of illegal immigrants each year, most of them Iraqi Kurds, Afghans, Albanians and Nigerians, who are fleeing famine, war or persecution. Ill-treatment Amnesty International makes particular note of the fact that allegations of ill-treatment of detainees by police persisted last year, saying that «some detainees reported that they were sexually humiliated by police officers.» Alleged victims, according to the rights group, were often undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers, foreign workers and Roma. In one of the cases cited in its report, AI notes the reports of ill-treatment of a group of some 160 possible asylum-seekers, many of Kurdish origin, who landed on the island of Crete last June. «At least 16 of them were reportedly beaten by the coast guard,» the group said, adding that «doctors who examined them found severe bruising and other injuries consistent with their account. One man further alleged that a coast guard had attempted to rape him with a truncheon.» The incident had provoked a public outcry in the local community of Hania where the group of immigrants was held, resulting in an administrative investigation by the Port Authority and disciplinary action against the officers involved in the incident. «In November, four were punished with between 30 and 50 days’ imprisonment, and two received lesser penalties,» Amnesty said. «A criminal investigation had not been completed by the end of the year.» In another incident, Refat Tafili, a 16-year-old Albanian who was arrested last February during a police operation to identify and expel illegal immigrants, alleged that he had been physically abused by officers while in custody. «Refat Tafili was allegedly pushed to the ground and repeatedly kicked,» Amnesty says. «After being taken to a police station, he became ill and was promptly released. Relatives took him to hospital where he underwent an operation for a ruptured spleen.» According to the rights group, Tafili was rearrested at the hospital, and became ill again after spending five days in «unhygienic conditions of detention» while facing deportation, and he was readmitted to hospital with an infection and internal bleeding. «Following intervention by the Ombudsman, his appeal against imminent deportation was granted,» Amnesty noted. Police impunity Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the slow pace of criminal and other investigations into complaints of ill-treatment by police, declaring that official figures indicate that police officers enjoyed almost complete de facto impunity. «In March, government officials stated that between 1996 and 2000, 163 complaints of ill-treatment had resulted in administrative investigations, and that criminal investigations had been opened in 52 of the cases,» AI notes. «During that period, no police officer was convicted of ill-treatment and only 24 officers had been disciplined. These figures appeared not to include a small number of convictions of police officers for inflicting ‘bodily harm’ on detainees.» In illustrating its stance on impunity, the rights group cites two separate cases where police officers accused of ill-treating detainees were found not guilty by courts – in one case an AI team actually observed the court proceedings. It also noted the two shooting incidents in Athens last year where a Rom and an Albanian man were killed by police officers. «Marinos Christopoulos, a Rom, aged 21, was shot and killed in October, and Gentjan Celniku, aged 20, an Albanian citizen, in November,» AI said. «In both cases, the police officers concerned claimed that their guns had fired accidentally. They were charged with murder and released on bail; one of them returned to service.» Investigations into these deaths had not been completed by the end of the year. Refugees According to Amnesty International, official figures show that between January and the end of September last year, some 205,000 undocumented migrants, mostly Afghans and Kurds from Iraq, were arrested for illegal entry into and residence in Greece. The rights group says, «They and others were detained without judicial review, sometimes for months, pending deportation or a decision on their asylum request.» Moreover, the group stresses that their conditions of detention were often inhuman and degrading, with severe overcrowding and lacking in hygiene. A law was passed in June making it illegal to hold such persons for over three months, and providing for the right to challenge their detention in court. But Amnesty says that even after the law came into force, «scores continued to be held illegally.» «On June 28, the human rights organization Greek Helsinki Committee appealed to the Ombudsman on behalf of 10 men, including several asylum-seekers, who… had already been held for between three to 12 months,» Amnesty reports. «Following the intervention of the Ombudsman, they and some 60 other foreigners illegally detained in Attica were released.» In an effort to stem the influx of illegal immigrants, Greece signed a protocol with Turkey last November that allowed it to turn boats with illegal immigrants back to Turkey. Although Greece has stated that this policy would not be applied to asylum-seekers, Amnesty International reports several instances in which illegal immigrants, including possible asylum-seekers, were forcibly returned to Turkey without observation of the due process for deportation. «Soon afterwards, there were reports that boats carrying migrants were being turned back in midsea to Turkey, without (the authorities) examining if any of the passengers wanted to seek asylum or were refugees entitled to protection,» Amnesty said.